Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers' use of force jumped nearly 27 percent in 2007, according to an internal affairs report released Thursday, and the department says it will use the data to make needed improvements.
Police used force against citizens 505times in 2007, compared with 399times the previous year. Fewer than 1 percent of those incidents violated department policies, the report said.
Use of force ranges from touching a suspect to firing a Taser or a gun.
The report comes a week after new Police Chief Rodney Monroe announced plans to reorganize his department, which includes putting more officers on the street. Former Chief Darrel Stephens, who retired in June, headed the department during the study period.
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Deputy Chief Ken Miller said the internal review is a way for the department to be proactive against misconduct and measure its performance outside of standard requirements. He said it will also be used to dig further into all of its overall use of force training.
“Overall uses of force are up and we're a little concerned about that because we should be,” Miller said. “Our mission, our role and public trust requires us to do our jobs as effectively as we can using the minimal amount of force, not that we should shy away from it when it's warranted.”
Other findings from the annual report also show increases in vehicle chases and citizen complaints against police.
The report “should be a red flag to anyone concerned about citizen-police contact,” said Jim Gronquist, a Charlotte lawyer and ACLU member. “Maybe their training is not effective, in that they're not making it clear to officers when it's appropriate and not appropriate to use force.”
A slight increase in arrests doesn't explain the leap in confrontations. When the number of arrests is factored in, officers used force 179 times for every 10,000 arrests, compared with 139 times the year before.
The department already is reviewing its Taser policy after an officer violated department rules earlier this year. The department found the officer incorrectly operated the Taser, contributing to the death of 17-year-old Darryl Turner.
The report also follows the May death of Aaron Winchester, who was shot twice in the back by an officer.
The deaths led to criticism from local and national activists that police officers were being too aggressive and should re-examine some of their policies. So far this year, one officer has been suspended and another has been fired for using too much force.
But police say the streets also are more dangerous.
The report shows that use of force had increased in the department's crime hot spots, areas of concentrated crime.
In one division, officers closely reviewed the circumstances surrounding each case and determined they had increased the number or raids and searches, which often leads to people trying to run or fighting back, Miller said.
Deputy Chief David Graham said the number of firearms seized by police continues to rise. Last year, the department collected about 2,800 from incidents or arrests.
“It's a different climate we're working in today,” he said.
Another study earlier this year showed that in 2007, there were 307 assaults on officers, 27 of which involved the use or threat of a gun. Those assaults led to 120 personal injuries to officers ranging from small bruises to the shooting deaths of two officers in the spring of 2007.
Republican Mayor Pat McCrory said he hadn't seen the report but cautioned against reaching conclusions on statistics alone. “The facts in each case are unique,” he said.
City Council member Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, said he's hesitant to draw sweeping conclusions as well, but said the rise in use of force incidents at least warrants further study.
“If there's high use of force and a high crime rate,” Foxx said, “it does raise questions about the effectiveness of those uses of force.”